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FRACKING: Frac sand mining opponents call for statewide moratorium

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Opponents to frac sand mining call for state wide moratorium until permitting can be established. Photo by Tim Blotz / FOX 9 News. Opponents to frac sand mining call for state wide moratorium until permitting can be established. Photo by Tim Blotz / FOX 9 News.
Long line of people waiting to testify at frac sand hearing. Photo by Tim Blotz / FOX 9 News. Long line of people waiting to testify at frac sand hearing. Photo by Tim Blotz / FOX 9 News.
ST. PAUL, Minn. (KMSP) -

State lawmakers at the Capitol Tuesday discussed growing concerns about the impact of the frac sand mining boom on Minnesota's environment and air quality.

The sand is used in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to get natural gas and oil out of the ground.

On Tuesday, the Senate Committee on Environment and Energy and House Committee on Energy Policy held the first hearing to consider testimony on the frac sand mining industry.

A long line of people waiting to testify at Tuesday's hearing weaved through the Capitol, and critics arrived by the busload. Two overflow rooms were set up, with all signs and posters banned from the main hearing room.

Fracking is big business in neighboring North Dakota, but a lot of the sand used is coming from Minnesota and mining companies are keen to acquire permits from local governments.

Yet, some Minnesota cities are banning mining expansion until regulations are put in place because the local governments are overwhelmed and the local residents are concerned about pollution and traffic. 

"Who can answer how many Wisconsin patrons will choose not to cross our interstate bridge to have surgery at our hospital or eat at one of our many restaurants because it's not worth fighting 900 trucks running across the bridge each day just to haul sand?" asked Lynn Schoen, Wabasha City Councilwoman.

Opponents are calling for a statewide moratorium until permitting can be established. Currently, it is up to counties and townships to regulate silica sand mining in their area.

There are currently eight silica sand mines in Minnesota. You can view them via an online map.

Aside from health and environmental concerns, frac sand mines seem to pop up in some of the state's most picturesque places. That's because the same geological forces that tend to cause silica sand to accumulate underground in Minnesota, Wisconsin and northern Iowa have also created scenic landforms atop that sand.

Hay Creek is an example. It is located south of Red Wing, Minn. A mining company bought land above Highway 58, which splits two bluffs that are rich in silica sand.

The Land Stewardship Project is asking lawmakers to pass the following four-point agenda:

  1. Create strong statewide permitting standards
  2. Instate a temporary moratorium on frac sand mines
  3. Create an environmental impact statement to help set permit standards
  4. Devise permitting fees and taxes to cover the damage to roads and bridges caused by frac sand trucking.

Yet, several Minnesota sand mine owners told the packed hearing that cities like Mankato are already successfully regulating mines as they argued against state involvement.

"This area knows mining and knows how to regulate it," said Scott Sustacek, of Jordan Sands.

Critics, however, say the cost to road infrastructure and the threat of particulate pollution are simply too high for the state to ignore.

"The state needs to get involved to help us protect our home -- my home," Schoen said. "Go Minnesota."

Tuesday's hearing was simply an informational session, meaning there is no legislation on the table yet; however, a bill will be introduced next week that will allow the secretary of the Department of Natural Resources to protect sensitive land from sand mining operations.

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